What is all this ranting about the faults of society? I know full well that it’s easy to complain about society. Don’t all the losers complain about it, for having lost something, whether in reality or only in their mind? What a well deserved reprimand for me to have heard (yup, I’ve been admonished too). I’m a lucky chap, no doubt about that. So where does this apparent lament come from?
I look for truth. I want to understand what makes things tick. Science is a good place to find truth, but of course science ought to be taken with a grain of salt. Today, the penetration of science in our lives is like never before. Scientific ideas like Darwin’s theory of natural selection offer endless breeding ground for opinion, debate, interpretation, and other such activities of the mind for our fellow citizen, providing a good complement to the Cabernet and the small talk. But the citizen had better linger on the wine for a second to avoid rash conclusions through simplification of what are after all pretty complicated matters. Theories are not to be interpreted simplistically, abused, shoehorned into reality, like people all too easily do. Doesn’t every geek read, as if possessed by the spirit of clairvoyance, the workings of Evolution in every little crawling animal spotted on some stone wall? Doesn’t every little trait seen in it immediately summon Evolution with a requisite explanation of how the trait gave it an edge? Like one who has some fluency in Darwin’s theory of natural selection, might he not conclude, perhaps in concert with Darwin, that evolution proceeds to ever more complex forms of life and that man is therefore a necessary, no, inevitable conclusion in the tree of life?
May I suggest referring to Stephen Jay Gould on the theory of punctuated equilibria for an interpretation of evolution that debunks a majority of our interpretations of Darwin, Man’s place in nature included. The fortuity and precariousness of life’s positions on the echelons of our ecosystem would become all too apparent. Where Darwin saw imperfections in the fossil record, Gould saw the signs of a very different reality of species dynamics.
Or, widely embraced in economics, the belief that selfishness is as ubiquitous as life itself and the conclusion that it is a justifiable premise for the economic machinery put to work by our society. People live entire lives by this belief picked up from their environment, imposed by them by a society poised on defending itself through your ostracization, should you not play ball. It’s a self fulfilling prophecy.
I guess the message here is a warning against allegiance to one or another theory in the sciences for frivolous reasons like its beauty, its simplicity, or its prestige. Take it with a grain of salt, for Man has been wrong before and He is likely wrong still.
But this essay is about the faults of our society (not about your superficiality), and one can’t possibly hope to successfully debate society’s faults without agreeing on what constitutes good life. My current criterion is happiness “n. state of well-being characterized by emotions ranging from contentment to intense joy”. But wait. Put your brain in a Matrix-like vat and feed it signals that trigger happiness. Or, remove all want from your brain to remove all reason for discontentment. (For example, get in a routine so you work 40 hours per week for the better part of your life.) You would be happy. But that’s not agreeable. I want happiness as a human being. I have nothing against bettering myself per se, but I have no intent to evolve into a non-human. I am content of being and joyous to be human (and therefore happy). So there you have it, happiness as a human is my business requirement, my raison d’être, my intrigue.
So what story does science tell about happiness? Per my as yet superficial immersion in anthropology, it would appear that even in the last 10,000 years man has not necessarily been improving his life. It is true that man has been improving his life since 10,000 years ago, when signs of famine are readable in geological record, but apparently not so compared to the time before that, when man lived as a forager. It would seem that in its small numbers and nimbleness, in prehistory, man was eating more healthy foods, was less prone to disease, was working less, enjoying life more – living better. I can’t claim to have enough of a basis to form a belief on the subject, but I am willing to believe it a possibility. I won’t just take for granted what I’m spoonfed by my society.
If this premise were true – and the exercise is worth doing – then the faults of society are, at its core, few but crass. First, the turning of its back on the ways of life of the genus Homo starting 2.4 million years ago and of Homo Sapiens starting 200,000 years ago. Second, its expansiveness to the point of engulfing the earth in its single-minded dogma. Third, its reduction of the individual to a mere part in its machinery – and what a huge machinery, and what a minuscule individual. Finally, its disrespect for any way of life that does not rhyme, brought about by selfish ignorance and the narcissistic belief that we are carriers of evolution’s destiny. To sum it up, our society is a self-infatuated little brat!
That is the fault of our society. I speak of it not thinking that I’m that bad off, or that I expect society to fix its faults within my lifetime. No, that cannot possibly happen for my generation, or for the next few generations. But maybe we can plant the seed of change in our children, tell them about the lost ways of man so that they can tell it to their children, and so forth, and maybe one day man will find a way to slow down this pointless gallop that has engulfed us and start living his life again. You can bet I won’t forget to mention it to my daughter when she’s ready to hear it.